Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
When Jesus is with people something always important is happening. He uses their language to communicate something about God and about ourselves. Jesus refers to the openness of heart to the message of God’s reign with various descriptions of soil. Jesus’ hearers expected God’s kingdom to be the restoration of Israel to great political and economic power; the Messiah would be a great warrior-king who would lead Israel to this triumph. Jesus’ parables subtly and delicately led people, without crushing or disillusioning them, to rethink their concept of the Reign of God. The parable of the Sower teaches that the fruitfulness of the seed (God's word) depends on the soil being open (the human heart’s willingness to embrace it).
We might ask Who is the Sower? There probably is no right or wrong answer except that God is always sowing, creating, life within us and around us. Paul tells us today, ‘The Spirit of God dwells in you’ (Romans 8:9, 11). What seeds do we sow? God is providing opportunities for us to bloom in new ways, and to grow in ways we had not imagined or thought possible.
Seeds take root or flourish, not on clean and shiny surfaces, but in soils consisting of waste, rotten vegetables, and mouldy fruit. To grow they need to find a place in the shadowy interiors, the smelly regions, and in the shadow lands. When we think of it, God’s masterpiece takes place in the messy parts of our lives which we may suppress or hide or the places in which we are most vulnerable. God is present wherever we regard ourselves or others as of little value, shameful, or unacceptable.
So too for the church. Tomas Halik writes, “Yes, I'm profoundly convinced that, precisely in circumstances where the church was crushed and trampled into the dust like a seed, that seed ought to bring forth fruit at last. It doesn't look as though the fruit will be an outwardly flourishing church, if by that we envisage full churches and seminaries, nor need it necessarily be a clear flame of new theological thinking. Maybe what can and should emerge is a new boldness to approach those ‘others.’” (Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us). Jesus reveals God’s abundant generosity by scattering seeds of gospel love, generosity, and compassion so that we may replicate these in the human community and where nothing is lost in God’s eyes. We need to believe that our actions have tremendous consequences. The Spirit is calling and has been calling out to each of us to let the Gospel challenge fall on rich soil but it is rich only because it consists of waste, shadowy interiors, and smelly regions. As collaborators with God, it is from there that we are meant to be out in the world helping, caring, organising and innovating. We need only let the Word in - into the dirt - deep down.
In John 3:16-17, we hear that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through him the world is to be saved.’ Despite the rot in the world, it is this world that God loves and wants to heal. And it is this world which is to be the place and object of our presence. Paul alludes to God’s abundant and generous Spirit that makes us God’s people and extends to us the freedom to love, to serve, to take risks, to speak the truth of God’s presence amongst us and be aware that God continues to speak to us, and through us, to confront the disrespect afforded to the many human images of God. James Baldwin said: ‘Every human being is an unprecedented miracle.’ Bearing fruit involves translating God’s reign of love into ongoing gestures of solidarity with others. It happens in those who do the advocating, participating, dissenting and everyday caring in their lives. Our sacred world is often desecrated by the greed of the powerful and wealthy. It has devastated the lives of many people and still continues with neglect of the poor, rejecting migrants and refugees, vilifying LGBTIQA+ people, human trafficking, genocidal activity, degradation of the Earth and removal of people from their ancestral lands. Nevertheless, God is with us even in the desecrated places and in the desecrated images of people.
Isaiah reminds us that God is continually creating through us, in prayer and contemplation, in works of art and creativity, in friendship and solidarity, in expressions of love and intimacy, in the love one shares with a spouse or partner. Creation is not once and for all. God is creating, which we participate in, despite what we do. We are urged to listen to the victims today whose suffering must inform and shape our relationships. As we listen to the voices of the poor, the homeless, Indigenous peoples, migrant workers, and young people, may we be ready to receive their message with meaningful critical participation that leads to a society where people are no longer victims. Our listening ears must also lead to an examination of our attitude towards the victim from the worldview of ‘the crowd’ to the worldview of Jesus. Let us listen our sisters and brothers especially those not listened to or allowed to have a voice. Let us try to see with their eyes. Let us step aside and make space so others may find themselves agents in their own lives. We are assured through Isaiah that God’s work is not wasted and that it will not return until it has accomplished what it intended to do – liberate, heal, forgive, create - without soil management on our part because it is not about judgment of the soul but about the Sower. God’s Word - these seeds thirsting for justice - will find fertile soil in ourselves and in the places and people often considered wasteful. God is our ultimate model of the skilled gardener - persistent and focused. This is the image of God’s extravagance and wastefulness. We often reflect on this parable in terms of judgment of the soil rather than focusing on the Sower. When considered along with the first reading, could the point of this parable be a joyful reminder that again and again amid this thorny and rocky and good world, God’s gracious Word is still being sowed – wantonly and indiscriminately as if there are no rules. This the Word that brings good news to the poor, and comfort to those who mourn, heals the broken-hearted, and open the prisons we create for ourselves and others. That word is written on our broken hearts, it falls in the tears of people forgiven and healed; and is present in the laughter of children. The Gospel reminds us that God’s Reign breaks in on all of us even if unevenly or imperfectly at times.
. . . . So, friends, every day
that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Work for nothing.
Take all that you have
and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands. . .
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
– from Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer Liberation Front